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Can Theresa May ignore the horror of Douma?

PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 April 2018

Smoke rises after the Syrian army's shelling targeted the Douma district in Eastern Ghouta countryside of Damascus
PHOTO: PA/Xinhua/Ammar Safarjalan

Smoke rises after the Syrian army's shelling targeted the Douma district in Eastern Ghouta countryside of Damascus PHOTO: PA/Xinhua/Ammar Safarjalan

Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

The children were foaming at the mouth, their faces contorted in agony with utter terror etched in their eyes.

The pictures taken in the aftermath of the horrific attack in Douma, Syria, at the weekend were truly sickening.

Many of you will have seen them in the media. Other images, ones that are wired out to media organisations to decided themselves whether or not to use, were simply too graphic to print.

Chemical weapons are indiscriminate. Innocent families get caught up in conflicts which are often no business of theirs. And being in the wrong place at the wrong time meant death for at least 42 people in Douma – including some tiny children and babies, their short lives already scarred by the fighting in their homeland ended in unimaginable pain.

What kind of monster would do this? Can you imagine any leader attacking their own people in this manner?

All the evidence points to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad who has all but defeated those looking to overthrow him with the help of Russia. But it has taken eight, long years of death and sorrow. What a price to cling to power.

Following the last gas attack by Assad – which again saw innocent people choking to death – US president Donald Trump fired off a salvo of missiles targeting an air base. This shocked many, not least Trump supporters, who were under the impression POTUS was very much a non-interventionist.

Our own government remains fearful of military intervention with the shadow of Iraq still looming very large. But surely every crisis needs to be evaluated on its own merit?

This week in British politics could prove to be one with far-reaching consequences. The decisions Theresa May and her top team have taken since the attack could linger a lot longer than even Brexit.

These are increasingly dangerous times. Whatever you may think of Trump he is hardly the most stable president the US has had. And then there are all the other factions that have been (or still could be) drawn into a conflict in Syria: Russia, Iran, Israel.

For the first time since the Cold War, the East and the West are squaring up. Lob the Skirpals in to this already-toxic mix and Britain has found itself in the middle of a perilous situation.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants parliament to have a vote. He claims Theresa May alone should not be able to make this decision. The prime minister is, of course, wholly within her rights to order military action.

Many who do not want Britain to be involved warn of the unintended consequences an intervention could create: namely an almighty, catastrophic war. And this war would be like none fought before, let’s not kid ourselves of the potential devastation.

But can Britain really turn the other cheek? Can we really ignore the plight of those children? Just stand back while another town’s innocent inhabitants are murdered by more death from above.

That is the weight of the decision Mrs May has had to make.

As the cabinet discussed what to do about the murderous Assad, a social media campaign – using the #NotInMyNameTheresaMay – grew in opposition to intervention. Debate and opposing voices are important and should be applauded. But probably none of those who added their support will ever be in a position to have a make a decision with such implications. And many probably didn’t see the true horrors of the attack.

All politicians want to be on the right side of history. But reading the future is a skill nobody possesses. Guess work and the hope of doing the right thing is really all the prime minister has.

The horror of Douma is the same horror we witnessed in Aleppo. It’s the same horror unleashed by despots generation after generation.

There is a famous poster issued by the Spanish government in October 1936 after the bombing by General Franco’s forces of Getafe, a small town south of Madrid. In it a dead child is pictured with a sky full of bombers overhead.

More than 40 people died in that attack. The words say simply “If you tolerate this, your children will be next”.

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